Barcelona bagged their second Clasico win of the week on Saturday, beating Real Madrid in La Liga at the Santiago Bernabeu just three days after their victory in the Copa del Rey semi-finals.
Ivan Rakitic scored the only goal in the first half after racing through on goal courtesy of a great pass from Sergi Roberto and lofting a finish over Thibaut Courtois. Real had few chances to pull level in the second half.
The win pushed the Catalans' advantage in the standings to 10 points, but second-placed Atletico Madrid still have a match in hand against Real Sociedad on Sunday.
Real Can't Move Forward with Solari
If Barcelona's midweek win was a statement to their advantage in raw talent, their triumph on Saturday came down to a coaching battle in which Ernesto Valverde ran circles around Santiago Solari.
The latter has been under pressure for some time now, and speculation he could be on his way out started to surface after the loss in the Copa del Rey, as sportswriter Simon Harrison shared:
His poor showing on Saturday will not have helped matters. While Valverde learned from the midweek contest and made a single but brilliant change―more on that later―Solari removed Lucas Vazquez for Gareth Bale and changed goalkeepers, with Courtois replacing Keylor Navas.
The lack of fundamental changes to the setup or strategy resulted in a one-sided first half and a deserved lead for Barcelona, who were outplayed during the opening period in midweek.
After the break, Solari took a massive gamble by taking off Toni Kroos for Federico Valverde, a decision that irked some fans:
He has now lost back-to-back Clasicos and hasn't made significant improvements on the team predecessor Julen Lopetegui left behind.
Solari also hasn't been unable to unlock Marco Asensio's full potential and has seen Spain international Isco's value plummet after freezing him out.
Real need a major overhaul in the summer, starting at the very top, because Solari isn't the right man to lead this team into next season.
Valverde Proves Coaching Credentials in Clasico Win
If Solari gave his critics ammunition on Saturday, Valverde did a fantastic job silencing those who have questioned him.
The Blaugrana beat Los Blancos 3-0 in midweek but looked far from convincing doing so, especially in the first half. Valverde learned from the mistakes the team made in that match and made a simple yet fundamental change to his side.
Arthur came into the starting XI in place of Nelson Semedo, who struggled tremendously against Vinicius Junior in the Copa del Rey. Roberto moved into his right-back position.
The changes made a big difference. Roberto, known for his great vision in the attacking third, provided the assist for Rakitic with a ball Semedo likely wouldn't have played, per sportswriter Rik Sharma:
As sportswriter Robbie Dunne noted, he also did a great job defensively:
As for Arthur, he added control and stability to the midfield unit, which dominated Kroos and Luka Modric. The Ballon d'Or winner in particular was almost a non-factor for large stretches of the match.
It was a simple but brilliant move from Valverde, who showed why the Barcelona leadership has so much faith in his abilities. Not everyone may like his somewhat conservative tactics, but the former Athletic Bilbao boss gets results.
Barcelona will host Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, while Real Madrid face Ajax on Tuesday in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 tie, which they lead 2-1. Their next La Liga match is the following Sunday against Real Valladolid.